The Perils of Online Dating: Spotting Romance Scammers Before They Break Your Heart and Your Bank Account

Millions of people worldwide have turned to digital platforms to find a potential romantic partner during the past year and a half. Although it may feel like you’re looking for love in all the right places, dating sites, mobile apps, and social networking platforms are filled with con artists after your hard-earned money.

They create fake profiles and contact targets on popular social media websites, including Facebook and Instagram, and attempt to build a trusting relationship by manipulating the victim. The victim loses time and money, and can suffer lasting psychological effects that may jeopardize future romantic relationships.

Warning signs that your cyber sweetheart may be a scammer

The person you meet online seems like the perfect match. They even profess strong feelings just after a couple of interactions. The con artist will make plans to meet you in person and may even propose marriage – but they will never actually tie the knot.

Romance scammers are experienced social engineers who are well aware that love doesn’t come easy and devote generous amounts of time to their newly found love interest, making the relationship seem too good to be true. They’ll often ask targets to switch from the dating platform or app immediately and exchange text messages and voice calls with the victim.

Once they gain your trust (it can take months), they start making up stories and ask for money. It may be little things at first, such as paying for a utility bill and fixing a car, but the scammers eventually start asking you to pay for medical bills, visas and other travel documents.

They mostly use wire transfers or gift cards, which have become a convenient form of payment and are virtually impossible to trace.  It’s important to remember that the scammer will never run out of excuses why he can’t meet with you.

If you become suspicious and start denying requests, things usually turn sour immediately. Best-case scenario, the scammer will cease any communication and block you. Worst case, he will begin to threaten to expose sensitive information and secrets you freely shared with him during the relationship and steal your personal information to commit fraud.

Users who go on to dating apps are also targeted by fraudsters who specialize in investment scams. So, after establishing an artificial relationship with the victim, the scammer will share investment tips, encouraging the target to open an account on various trading apps.

Seven tips to protect your info and finances from romance scammers

Romance fraud costs victims hundreds of millions of dollars each year. The best way to protect against it is to brush up on good cyber hygiene practices, stay alert, and treat every new romantic interaction with caution:

  • Build the relationship slowly and ask your love interest many questions – pay attention to any inconsistencies and check if the photos are stolen. Use Google’s search by image feature that allows you to upload any image or URL to check if they are an impostor
  • Cut off contact if you begin to notice suspicious behavior
  • Report the scammers’ profile on the dating website or social media platform
  • Don’t reveal personal or sensitive information on your dating profile – profiles that reveal a lot of personal info make you vulnerable as they can help the scammer build a psychological profile and single you out as a target. Don’t provide links to other social media profiles such as LinkedIn, as it can also help the scammer in his attempt to swindle you
  • Never provide your bank account, credit card number or other personally identifiable information, and immediately cease communication if you are asked to send cash or gift card
  • Never send sensitive videos or photos to individuals you meet online – they can be used to blackmail you
  • Install a security solution on your device and set up strong and unique passwords for your accounts

Oversharing in the digital world is a major reason why individuals fall victim to scams, fraud and impersonation. Posting responsibly and not revealing too much information are crucial in safeguarding your online persona.

Bitdefender’s Digital Identity Protection tool helps you take control and minimize your digital footprint by continuously monitoring for data breaches, leaks and social media impersonators that may ruin your reputation.

The dedicated online privacy service proactively scans the web for data related to the information provided in the onboarding process (email address and phone number) so that you can start taking more privacy-focused decisions to protect against fraudulent attempts.